Mischief Managed

Since I’ve started helping Nancy with her two classes, I’ve noticed that while many of our students are required to write regularly, few of them have a solid foundation on the basics of academic writing. Many of Nancy’s classes are divided into covering topics like: how to determine the relevance of an article, how to create an annotated bibliography, and even how to find sources. I was pretty stunned when some of my masters students approached me asking what resources they could use to find articles relevant to their theses. As an undergraduate, I felt like I was forced to review how to find sources at least once a year, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see how lost at sea these masters students were when it came to doing research.

Because many of our students do lack writing fundamentals, I wasn’t surprised to see that Nancy had planned to spend one of our classes reviewing references. What did surprise me was the fact that I would be teaching the class. Nancy wasn’t able to come to class today since she was out of town for a conference, so today was my first day teaching on own! Nancy gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the class as long as I taught things related to references, sources, and how to avoid plagiarism. While I was excited to plan my first lesson, I initially wasn’t too excited about my topic. As my friend Irene put it, references tend to be “less than inspiring.”

While references may not be the most exciting thing, they are a crucial component of academic writing and something that needed to be reviewed. In order to make the topic a bit more interesting, I decided make my lesson Harry Potter themed. I won’t go too in depth into what I taught, but I broadly focused on:

  1. Different types of sources (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How to access the relevance and credibility of an article
  3. Where to find sources
  4. Why referencing is important and easy (especially if you use tools like easybib.com, EndNote, and Zotero)
  5. What plagiarism is and how to avoid it

Because this particular class is quite small (on average nine people turn up for class), they seem to really excel when it comes to doing group work. Their favorite part of today’s lesson was when I had them divide up into groups and read three of the six articles below:

  1. An excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. An excerpt from Wikipedia’s Harry Potter page
  3. The Atlantic’s How the ‘Harry Potter’ Movies Succeeded Where the Books Failed
  4. The Leaky Cauldron’s “Harry Potter Book to Movie Differences: Prisoner of Azkaban
  5. An interview with Daniel Radcliffe about pretty much anything other than Harry Potter
  6. Philip Nel’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bored: Harry Potter, the Movie”

After they were done reading, they had to talk to their groups and try to answer these questions:

  1. What kind of source is it? (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How credible is the source? On a scale of 1-10
  3. How relevant is the source? On a scale of 1-10

Overall, they seemed to have a fun time realizing that credible sources are not always relevant, and that relevant sources are not always credible.

Later on I had them practice paraphrasing by having them summarize their different articles and their arguments.

By the time class ended, people seemed to have a pretty good understanding of references and looked like they had enjoyed themselves. In short, mischief managed!

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